The world today presents several challenges for people who want to make it in careers. Ultimately the professional workplace is challenging in that it sometimes fails to value those individuals who are older and lack credentials. While they may believe that years of experience should count just the same as having a college degree, there are many employers who just do not see it this way. With this in mind, when a person over the age of 40 is having a hard time advancing in their career, it may be time to think about a potential solution to that issue. It may be time for them to think about going back to school to get the credentials that can then help them move forward and advance past those people who are otherwise staying above them in their organizations. The problem, of course, is that going back to college is difficult. It is not easy to just drop everything and apply to college, and the process can be foreign or unfamiliar for some people. There are time constraints that come into play for older people.
Unlike their younger counterparts, older people are in many respects expected to fulfill duties involving family, work, and the like (Hook & Faklaris, 2015). On top of that, many older people trying to go back to college find themselves in a tough spot because they simply do not understand many of the things that are required in order to successfully get into college and graduate with the degree of their choosing. The good news for these individuals is that there are some solutions that can work for them. An older person who goes back to college to get a credential may be able to move up in his or her position while showing initiative and a desire to improve. With this in mind, older people going back to college have to have answers to two important questions. First, is it possible for someone over 40 to complete college? Beyond that, even if it is feasible, is it a good idea for a person older than 40 to attempt this, given all of the constraints involved?

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When looking at whether it is a good idea for a person to go to college at an advanced age, there are a number of key factors that should be considered. First, they should consider when the last time was that they completed any school work. School requires one to have a certain set of skills, even beyond the knowledge they will be gaining. They have to have study skills, they have to be able to understand assignments, and in many cases they will have to use technology. If a person has been exposed to some kind of school work in recent times, then it will be easier for them to manage their workload. Beyond that, people have to ask what financial constraints they are facing. School is easier without the burden of financial stress. While all of life brings about the potential for some financial stress, a student has to get very realistic about these barriers and constraints when making decisions. While having financial constraints does not necessarily mean that a person should avoid school, it does present an additional data point for consideration. In addition, there should be a consideration of various social barriers. Are there things that keep an older person from fully enjoying the benefits of an education?

One should also consider the actual process involved with going back to college. The first step is to choose the right college. Not all universities are created equally. In order to have a positive experience, one must choose a college that both presents the right type of programs and one that will garner the appropriate level of respect in the field. It may be true that the “best” college in the rankings is the one to attend, but it may also be true that a person could benefit from going to a school with appropriate concessions for older students. Choosing the right college involves going on visits and speaking to people both within one’s field and associated with the university. Fortunately the Internet provides plenty of information to get the ball rolling, but a person should be willing to go above and beyond that in order to gain more information on college.

In addition, there are several steps involved in actually applying so that one can be accepted into the university. There are tremendous steps involved in the paperwork. For most colleges, a common application is needed, filling in all of the information necessary for helping the university make its choice. This can be tough for older people because some of the information needed—including high school transcripts—can be hard to find. In some cases, an older person’s high school may not even exist any more. In addition to that, one will usually need to get recommendations from those who know them. Most students coming right out of high school will rely on their teachers and coaches for this, but people who are older will generally have to solicit their bosses and people involved in the community. This can be a challenge and can present a barrier to access. Finally, one will need to write personal statements. This can be a tough challenge for people who have not been writing much over the last few years.

In addition to those barriers, one has to choose the right major in accordance with one’s own career goals and schedule constraints. Good research is needed to find a program that will fit a person’s schedule. This may mean some online classes. It may mean flexible attendance policies and schedules. Once a person is able to find a class schedule and program that works for them, they have to actually enroll, paying all of the requisite fees, buying the right books, and getting prepared. This all sets a person up to complete the course work. This can be a challenge, but it is one that most people can complete if they are willing to put in the hard work.

One of the reasons why people choose to go back to college is because they want to improve their employment prospects and aid their lives. There have been many studies on the financial impact of getting a college degree as compared to going forward with just a high school diploma. The financial impact is startling in most cases. Research suggests that on average, a person with a college degree will earn one million more dollars over the course of a lifetime than a person who just has a high school education (Hu & Walkiak, 2013). This number can be even higher for people who are able to get a college degree in a technical field, or people who already have careers in which they can advance with their college degree. In short, many positions are available for college graduates that are not available for those with just a high school education (Hagelskamp et al, 2013). Many managerial positions within organizations are not available unless a person has a college education. Many leadership positions are only open to people who have these credentials, which can create an unnecessary barrier to entry for those without these credentials.

As an older student, there are some disadvantages that one will gain, but there are several advantages, too. The advantages are clear—older students tend to have more purpose and will be more focused. Some younger students go to college because it is the next thing to do. However, they may be there to party and be social while overlooking their educational requirements. Older students are there to get a degree (Bragg, 2013). However, older students may be less attuned to technology and may be out of the game, so to speak, which can make it harder for them to have success.

As an older student, it is critical to consider all options for entry, as not all of them are created equally. Full-time programs, while living on campus, are typical for younger students. They are more intensive and allow a person to be more focused, though they may not work for older students with family and work requirements. Full time programs, while living off campus, are better for students who have families but still want to be fully immersed in course work. Part-time or executive programs are best for people who want to keep working in their existing jobs, which may be a part of the draw of college for a person with an actual career going on now.

There are many findings to take into account in this study. First, going back to college is feasible for an older person, assuming they put in the time to research schools and choose the right one. In addition, going back to college can provide much more earning and career potential. From this, one can determine that it is a good idea for an older person to go back to college, assuming they have a process in place that will allow them to make a good choice and attend a program that works to their strengths.

  • Bragg, D. D. (2013). Pathways to college for underserved and nontraditional students. The state of college access and completion: Improving college success for students from underrepresented groups, 34-56.
  • Hagelskamp, C., Schleifer, D., & DiStasi, C. (2013). Is College Worth It for Me? How Adults without Degrees Think about Going (Back) to School. Public Agenda.
  • Hook, S. A., & Faklaris, C. (2016). If You Are Going To Skydive, You Need a Parachute: Navigating the World of Higher Education as an Adult/Returning Student.
  • Hu, S., & Wolniak, G. C. (2013). College student engagement and early career earnings: Differences by gender, race/ethnicity, and academic preparation. The Review of Higher Education, 36(2), 211-233.